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CHAP.LXV     ARCHITECTURE AND ART           285
are still standing, and many years ago, the morning after
my arrival at Isfahan, I rose very early and knocked a
polo ball between the posts, the first time such a thing
had been done for perhaps two centuries. By this act I
paid homage to a glorious past and expressed my gratitude
to Persia for a game which is unequalled.
The Royal Mosque.—Overlooking the imposing paral-
lelogram is the Masjid-i-Shah, or " Royal Mosque," one of
the finest existing examples of Persian architecture. To
quote the masterly description by Lord Curzon :—cc A
lofty archway framed in a recess, embellished with interior
honeycomb groining in enamelled faience, surrounded
by tile inscriptions from the Koran, and,flanked by two
minarets with spiral bands of similar ornamentation, leads
from the Maydan through a porch, containing a great
vase or font of porphyry, into the inner court. Here the
peculiar construction of the Mosque, already visible from
the exterior, is fully apparent. The axis of the Maydan
being almost due north and south, the architect required
to incline the axis of the mosque considerably to the
south-west, in order that the mihrab or prayer-niche
might be turned in the direction of Mecca. This pur-
pose was effected by architectural means that are at once
grandiose and simple. The inner court, marble-paved
and containing a great tank for ablutions in the centre, is
surrounded by a two-storeyed arcade, undecorated save
by bands of Kufic inscriptions in tile-work, white letters
upon a blue ground. The arches are kept for the accom-
modation of priests and attendants. On either side rises
a lofty tile-faced aywan, a mighty arch in which opens
access to a space covered by a low dome. Opposite the
entrance a third aywan, flanked by minarets, conducts
into the mosque proper, which is surmounted by the
principal cupola, whose exterior, covered with exquisite
tiles containing patterns in dark blue and green arabesque
on an azure ground, is one of the principal land-marks in
the city* On either side of the shrine are further courts,
with basins and porticoes, to which the public are admitted
on Fridays, The decorative treatment of this beautiful
building, though falling, like all other works of art in